THE FEDERAL government is acting in bad faith by leaving two local First Nations in land claims limbo, says the head of the BC Treaty Commission.
Both the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas have been waiting for months for the federal government to formally introduce land and cash components of what will form crucial pieces of a tentative agreement in principle for each, says chief commissioner Sophie Pierre.
But with summer now here and Parliament finished until the fall, there’s no way of knowing when those components might be presented, she says.
“What we have kept on saying is that negotiations need to be done in good faith,” said Pierre. “We had all expected this spring to have items in place [leading toward consideration of agreements in principle].”
“And now it’s incredibly frustrating that the federal government continues to have this appearance that it is committed to good faith negotiations. We keep saying we do not see evidence of good faith negotiations,” said Pierre.
The Kitsumkalum and the Kitselas have been negotiating with the federal and provincial governments since 1997 to agree upon treaties establishing a land base for each, cash, self-government powers and jurisdiction over natural resources.
Negotiators for all parties reached what would be tentative agreements in principle this spring but progress has been stalled since then because the federal government has yet to approve the land and cash components agreed to at the bargaining table.
The BC Treaty Commission is an independent body which oversees the steps taken toward final treaty settlement.
While federal and provincial cabinets must sign off on agreements in principle, the terms are subject to a vote by the entire membership of the affected First Nation.
Agreements in principle, once agreed to by all concerned, form the basis for final treaty negotiations and it is rare that final treaties differ from an agreement in principle.
Pierre said the treaty commission knows of no outstanding reason why the federal government cannot follow through on a tentative agreement in principle.
“These are treaties we consider very doable and there are no outstanding challenges. If they can’t do it for these treaties, what can we expect where there are real challenges,” Pierre added.
And since there are no time limits that parties need to respect, there is no accountability, she said.
“What that means is that the other parties are left holding the bag,” Pierre continued.
“Where does that leave the First Nation when one of the parties isn’t coming through?”
Making matters worse for First Nations is that they borrow from governments against eventual treaty cash settlements to provide the money to negotiate, she said.
“So for the past year these First Nations have been borrowing money to keep negotiating when there is a land and cash offer they’ve been waiting to hear about,” said Pierre.
She said the First Nations should not repay what they have borrowed over the past year because of the federal government delay in approving a tentative agreement in principle.